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Digital cameras, embrace your inner eBook

Lots of people are doing it -- using their digital camera as a quick way to copy documents, not just for taking home, but to carry around. Rather than carry around a large travel guidebook (where most of the weight is devoted to hotels and restaurants in other towns) we normally just photograph the relevant pages for the area we will be exploring. We also do it even with portable items like guides and travel maps since we don't really want the paper. We also find ourselves regularly photographing maps of cities, facilities and transit systems found on walls. We will photograph transit timetables: take a ferry out, photograph the schedule of ferries going back. In countries where you can't write the language, photographing the names of destinations, so you can show it to cab drivers and locals is handy.

Yes, I have also seen copyright violation going on, with people taking a temporary photograph of somebody else's guidebook, or one in a library or hotel. Not to save money, but for the convenience.

While I still think a dedicated travel device makes sense when doing tourism, cameras should embrace this function. Some travel guides, such as Lonely Planet, will sell you a PDF version of the book or chapters in it. Perhaps being able to read PDFs is more than a camera wants to do, but these could be converted to PNGs or some other clear and compact format. A very simple book browser in the camera is not a tall order, considering the level of processing they now have. Though there seems to be a lot to be said for the simplicity of the camera's interface, where you turn a wheel to find a page and then zoom in. If there's a browser it had better be easier to use than that.

However, even simpler would be a way to tag a photo as being text (indeed, many cameras could probably figure out that a photo is dense with text on their own.) Such photos would be put into their own special folder, and the camera's menu should offer a way to directly go to those photos for browsing.

I realize the risk here. Forced convergence often results in a device that does nothing well. In this case people are already using the camera for this, because it is what they are carrying. There is already pressure to make camera screens bigger and higher resolution, and to give them good interfaces to move around and zoom in.

In time, though, travel guides might deliberately make versions that you store on the flash card of your camera. Of course, you can already do this on your PDA, and I read eBooks on my PDA all the time. And sometimes your cell phone/PDA is your camera.


The camera and associated netbook (or whatever has a bigger screen for reading) could use the fact that it is text to store it in much less space, and render it much more quickly (and even with text browsing ergonomics).

Take a look at what Kurzweil released a year ago. Your cell phone/ camera will read books to you, etc. In reasonably controlled environments it will read street signs, etc. The next step is integration with internal GPS and maps so that the blind can navigate on their own, read street signs, read store signs, etc. And it will read the newspaper, books, etc.

The internal interface to obtain a text form, etc. is less important, but it is inherent in the technology.


I've been doing the "photograph documents" thing for a long time now, everything from business cards to signs that are in silly places (correct the aspect in an image editor to read the sign). Trade shows are especially good for this, it's much easier to carry a camera than a bag full of business cards. And voice annotation makes it easy to add notes to the shots. All I need is a PoS camera that works inside a trade show (pixel binning for a usable 6400ISO perhaps?)

This is the one use I can actually see for the stupid SD card slot in my 1DIII - I can say "small jpegs go on the SD card". Now, if only the "small" jpegs were a decent size and my liseuse (Sony PRS505) would let me browse them... I'd have a 6" screen that will display maps I saw a few kilometres ago. Instead I screenshot google maps in advance.

I'm still irritated that camera manufacturers have the idea that small jpegs should be ridiculously larger than any screen mortals can afford. My 30" monitor can't display the smallest jpeg my point and shoot camera can produce without resizing. WTF. Give me 800x600, 1600x1200 and half the native resolution, not too big, even bigger, and freaking ridiculous as the three "smaller" sizes.

Then, of course, there's the bit where my photo is not quite readable once it's on the web. Oooops.

Is not precisely a portable camera of course. But the idea is you shoot with what you are carrying. I'm not that keen on making these images super small. Hardly worth going to the menu to change the size. (You can put the size on a fast button but even so it's barely worth it.)

But I am saying a camera that can find faces to focus on can figure out if it's taking a picture of text. Business cards are good -- it annoys me that my cell phone camera can't macro enough to get a good shot of a business card. But I can use it to record the URLs of companies I see at trade shows rather than getting their literature.

Indeed, to me since the cell phone camera is not very useful at taking real photographs (at least to a more anal photographer) its one real purpose is these sort of document photos.

Yup, that would be the ideal use for a cell phone camera. The other thing I use my cellcamera for is taking photos of misbehaviour. So if it had a number plate recognition mode that would also be handy.

I find that phone cameras don't work well in artificial light - the purple snow makes it pretty unusable. I suspect that if they removed the colour filter array and gave us 1600x1200 black and white it would be a lot better. Unfortunately that will have to be a hack, because there's no way that would look good on the marketing material. "10MP with HD video mode and low light ability" vs "1MP black and white with business card recognition". I don't think so.

The other add would be OCR. Even limited OCR - recognise phone numbers and URIs. Even if it was only 90% accurate it's much, much easier to pick one of the highlighted URIs and correct it than it is to type one in.

Oh, and why does no one make a panorama video mode? It's the obvious solution if you don't have 10fps ... and most DSLR video modes already lock exposure and focus etc so you're 90% of the way to a panorama already. The 1DIII does hand-held HDR and pano pretty darn well for that reason (and being able to lock the fast burst to five shots helps too)

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